Casting blame: A response to Chief Rabbi Amar

Women's organizations may be the ones mounting the last-ditch effort to save rabbis and rabbinate.

shlomo amar 248 88 ap (photo credit: AP [file])
shlomo amar 248 88 ap
(photo credit: AP [file])
Well, the word is out. The women's organizations intimidate the state apparatus in Israel to such an extent that they have undermined the rabbinical court system and the respect accorded to its rabbis. So stated Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar at an international conference of rabbis, which convened this week in Jerusalem to discuss halachic issues. The "fear" that the women's organizations lodged in the hearts of Knesset members and public figures, according to Amar, was what motivated the passing of the recent legislation amending the property law. This milestone bill separates the courts' ability to divide a couple's property from the process of granting the get - their religious divorce - in the religious courts. It is an important reversal of a situation that had allowed men to refuse to give their wives a get after the other terms of their divorce had been settled. The amendment was indeed the result of intense lobbying by the women's organizations that are part of the International Coalition for Aguna Rights coalition, and it has been welcomed as a historical breakthrough in easing the plight of agunot and mesuravot get in Israel. Rather than embracing the work of the women's organizations - which have been diligent in pressing for solutions to this problem within the framework of Jewish law, when they could have put their efforts at trying to simply chuck out the whole system - and rather than commending a struggle that has gone on for more than 50 years all over the world to achieve justice for Jewish women, Rabbi Amar has chosen to cast blame. He identifies the women's organizations as the destabilizing force that threatens the status of the country's rabbinical court system. It is all because of those "nasty women" who, he says, would not agree to a compromise regarding the legislation and, in general, are so obstinate in their demands that the prestige of the rabbinate and the rabbis has been damaged. I would invite Rabbi Amar to consider an alternative scenario. Women's organizations are probably the ones that are mounting the last-ditch effort to save the rabbis and rabbinate from themselves. The fact that they want to bring them kicking and screaming into a Jewish world that will not tolerate inequality and discrimination, and that will not allow women to suffer abrogation of their human rights, is what may still preserve the relevancy of the rabbinate. For too many in Israel, religious marriage is no longer an option, if only to avoid what may be a horrendous situation in the event of divorce. The women's organizations have been and continue to be the most positive force in preserving this aspect of Jewish life in Israel - if only the rabbis would wake up and recognize it. Rabbi Amar, may I suggest that you look inward before casting blame. Better yet, look in the mirror. The writer is president of the International Council of Jewish Women, an NGO which represents 52 Jewish women's organizations around the world and is a member of the International Coalition for Aguna Rights.